THE STORY OF HERON HALL
Why Heron Hall?
A house with character should have a name with character. There is a running joke in the environmental community that developments tend to get named after the animals or site features that got destroyed to make it. In this case my goal is to buck that trend and create a project that allows for the natural world to thrive – creating habitat through native plantings and careful site design. Why call it Heron Hall?
When I was trying to make the final decision to buy the land I was agonizing over the pros and cons and so I decided to walk the site one last time, hoping for some ‘sign’ that this was the right place to raise my family for the next couple decades. I parked my car on the side of the road and walked towards it – suddenly a giant crow swooped down in front of me and landed right next to me – cackling and making all kinds of noises. In my imagination I felt it was welcoming me. As I carried forth onto the site I went down to the creek and suddenly a giant frog jumped clear over my feet – ribbit! Ribbit! That was special I thought! And finally as I lifted my head – a large heron swooped down overhead, not twenty feet from me. Three signs within 2 minutes – all of which are amongst my favorite animals.
Growing up I was fascinated by the story A Wind in the Willows, a delightful story about 3 animals that lived next to a river and swamp and had great adventures together. Toad Hall has always figured large in my imagination – so I decided to name my house – Heron Hall.
Its quite simple. I’m an architect. While I’ve built homes for other people the chance to build a home for my family is every designers dream. And besides, I had to walk my talk. As the founder of the Living Building Challenge I had to create a home that exemplifies all that I preach to others around the world. Our goal with Heron Hall is to create an environment that enriches our daily lives, feeds our souls and keeps us connected to the land and environment – and most importantly to each other.
Heron Hall is located in a very special part of Bainbridge Island – itself a very special place. I have always found Island’s to be magical places, surrounded by water with very clear boundaries. As it is, Bainbridge Island is particularly wonderful – one of those rare places where you can enjoy natural beauty and a rural existence – all while being a short distance from a world-class city. The best free public schools in the state, wonderful parks and beautiful trees and a safe, progressive community with good food and culture.
My work takes me around the world – so I need to be near enough to an international airport, yet the other half my time I like to stick close to home- I telecommute and my home is my office. The amazing thing is that I almost never need a car to get to work. My wife and I drive very little throughout the year and almost never take a car to Seattle.
The site is located on the south end of the island in an area known as Lynwood Center and Pleasant Beach, an area with a popular new village center under construction. Being literally two blocks from the village we have access to a small grocery store, two coffee shops, pizza parlor, movie theater, shops, ice cream parlor, bakery, wine bar, thai restaurant, burger bar, community pool and Sunday farmers market. For a small town this is quite a hub of activity. Our kids school is also only 15 minutes walk away. Having access to community is important to us. Especially considering we can walk to all of this.
The area has important history. For hundreds of years pleasant beach was a ‘winter camp’ of the Suquamish Indians and they planted Camas and other staples in the area. As a south facing sunny location it was a desireable place to be. In 1792 Captain Vancouver rounded the point and met up with Chief Kitsap – the first connection of the British and local population in this area in view of our site. Fast forward a hundred years and Pleasant Beach was a popular summer destination spot for Seattle tourists – featuring a hotel, bowling alley, the first theater on the island and more.
The site itself is one of the few flat, south facing sunny sites left on the island where it wasn’t necessary to cut down beautiful trees to build. Thousands of year’s ago my site was located under water – and then in a giant uplift it was lifted out of the water as the entire island was moved. Today Heron Hall is nestled between several beautiful natural amenities and even though I only own an acre of land – it is surrounded by approximately 4 acres of natural landscape that can’t be developed and feels like my front yard. Immediately to the southeast is a small park that is being developed into a small playground, as well as a one acre forested parcel owed by the parks department.
Directly south is Schel Cheb Estuary – a human made estuary that was completed as part of a restoration project. Shel Chelb Creek runs into this estuary creating a unique Ecotone where fresh and salt water intermingles. Completed in 1996 the estuary is now one of the best ‘birding’ locations on the island. A public trail bisects the eastern edge of my property – allowing public access to both the beach and to a trail system across Baker Hill Road that connects people to Gazzam Lake park. The public access portion of Pleasant Beach is for the most part – privately held by my property and the lots behind mine – yet public access is written into the covenants for all to enjoy.
We are never alone on our site. We share it with deer, snakes, herons, crows, raccoons, ducks, frogs and hundreds of other species.